These con artists will try and make you fall in love with them online, only to turn around and start asking for money—lots and lots of money.
Online dating sucks. It’s so hard to tell whether someone is really who you think they are—especially when their photos are so “artfully” composed as to completely obscure their face and their “about me” section is nothing but Coldplay lyrics.
But going on bad date after bad date pales in comparison to someone who’s actually misleading you. Dating apps and websites are full of scammers who use your desire to connect to “connect themselves” to your bank account.
According to a report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), there were almost 15,000 complaints of “romance scams” made in 2016, with losses that exceeded $230 million. That’s well over $15,000 lost per complaint! Yikes!
Don’t let yourself get duped by a romance scammer. Here are seven ways you can stay safe while looking for love online.
1. Perform your own background check.
It’s amazing how far a little bit of googling will go. People who run these scams will likely write you long, florid messages; remember, they’re trying to make you fall in love with them. Take all the information they give you and comb through both search engines and social media to see what you can verify.
In the modern age, most people have at least some kind of digital footprint, and you should be able to verify that this person really exists. If you keep running up against dead ends—if it seems like this person doesn’t exist beyond their dating profile—then there is a very good chance that, well, they’re entirely made up.
2. Reverse image search.
Most of the advice in this article is pretty low tech, but this one involves using some slightly more advanced technology to your advantage. (Okay, it’s not exactly high tech, but if you want to hum the Mission Impossible theme under your breath while you do it, we won’t judge.)
Scammers will likely steal images from someone else to create their profile, which is something you can turn against them. The nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Reports suggests that you run any dating profile images through a reverse image search using Google Images or a search engine like TinEye.
When you’re being scammed, the results will return someone completely different from the person you’re chatting with. Consumer Reports also suggests that you check your pen pal’s email address against the records kept on RomanceScams.org.
3. Do not follow to a second location.
Most dating sites and websites have security measures to prevent their users from being scammed. When someone’s messaging you in a suspicious way, there’s a chance that the site’s security team will pick up on it and delete the scammer’s account.
This is why many romance scammers will try and get you off the platform as soon as possible. They’ll make up some excuse and ask that you two continue your conversation over text or email. This is a huge red flag.
Push back and suggest that you two continue chatting through the site, or try and set up a Skype call so that you two can actually talk face-to-face. Whatever excuses they push back with are likely to be very flimsy.
Talk to anyone who’s been in a real long distance relationship: If a person’s really that into you, they’ll figure out how to make a Skype call work. And if the person does agree to a Skype call or to meet up in real life and then keeps finding reasons to cancel, that’s yet another red flag.
4. Watch out for grammar and spelling.
In the age of texting and autocorrect, we’ve all let our standards for spelling and grammar fall by the wayside. But when you’re talking with a stranger on the internet, keep an eye out for grammar and spelling mistakes, especially if the person insists that they are a native English speaker.
A number of the people pulling these scams are not, in fact, native English speakers, nor do they live in the United States. Lots of mistakes in spelling, or use of common phrases that just seem a little … off … might be a sign that this is a foreigner trying to pretend they’re an American.
With online dating, a person who’s trying to pretend they’re someone else is not a person you want to get involved with—scam or no.
5. Phone a friend.
Not to get all Inception on you, but have you ever woken up from a dream and realized that things which made perfect sense to you in that dream actually make no sense whatsoever once you woke up?
That’s how it can be with these scammers, many of whom are adept at weaving a convincing spell over you, one that makes big flashing warnings signs look like a romantic candlelit dinner. You can combat this by talking to a friend or a close relative, someone who can help you process what’s going on and point out when things don’t make sense or seem weird.
Scammers will anticipate this and try to isolate you from such people. They’ll try and convince you that your friends are the ones who are wrong, not them. Don’t let them fool you. Someone who you’ve been close with for years is more trustworthy than a person you only know as text on a screen. Don’t let your heart override your head.
6. Be skeptical.
This goes for all facets of online dating, it’s just especially true when dealing with potential scammers. The best way to keep your heart from being broken and your bank account from being emptied is to treat everything your online partner tells you with skepticism.
This isn’t only about how they talk about themselves, it’s also how they talk about you. If your online partner is constantly complimenting you, be suspicious. They might just be trying to crush your inner alarm bells under the weight of their flattery.
Look, we think that you’re really great, but when somebody who’s never met you is going on and on and on about how great you are—how handsome and how smart and how funny and how wise—perhaps it’s because they want something from you.
Experienced online daters know that people are rarely who they portray themselves to be online. Take that advice to heart and said heart should be protected from romance scammers.
7. Just say “no.”
Even if you’ve ignored all the rest of the advice in this article, it’s not too late. Up until you hit the button in your banking portal that says “transfer funds,” you still have a chance to save yourself from a romance scam.
This advice is extremely simple, but it can also be extremely difficult. When your long-distance love all of a sudden has a “financial emergency” and desperately asks you to send them money … just tell them no.
This is what the con has been building to, and it’s also the moment where any doubt should vanish from your mind. If you didn’t know, now you know: It’s a scam.
They won’t give up easily, they will continue to wheedle and plead. Their sob story will take on even sobbier dimensions. Don’t fall for it. Tell them no, and end the communication. Block their number, delete your profile, do whatever you have to do.
Online dating might kind of suck, but it’s also how more and more people are finding love. Don’t let a scammer turn your quest for romance into a date with financial ruin. Follow our advice, and the only bad experience you’ll have on dating apps will be awful dates—so many truly awful dates.
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